The U.S. Department of the Interior recently approved an application by the Menominee Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin to open a casino in Kenosha, 160 miles away from the Menominee reservation. As tribal leaders, we have grave concerns about the implication of this decision for tribes in Minnesota and across the nation.
By passing the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, Congress intended to stimulate economic development and job creation on Indian reservations, which in turn would move tribal governments closer to self-sufficiency. Few people really expected Indian gaming to succeed, given the inexperience of tribes and the remote location of most reservations. However, tribal governments surprised the skeptics, building clean, well-managed, successful gaming operations that do exactly what they were intended to do — improve the lives of Indian people.
Congress also clearly intended to limit tribal gaming to reservation land and allowed off-reservation expansion only under very special circumstances. The Interior Department’s decision and its rationale suggest a dramatic change in policy far beyond the intent of IGRA.
Congress never expected or intended that all tribes, given their diverse geographic locations, would find equal success from tribal gaming operations. Historically, federal funding and other resources available to tribes have never been distributed equally. Because of factors such as location, size of land base, type of natural resources, and tribal population, some tribes have more resources available to them than other tribes.
Every Indian tribe in America lives with the history of broken treaties and promises perpetuated by the non-Indian power brokers who controlled state and federal government over the years. Tribes have learned too well the corrosive effect of unchecked greed for tribal resources. Tribal history is a history of lands and resources taken by force or swindle and lost forever.
That is why the member tribes of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association (MIGA) have consistently opposed the expansion of off-reservation gambling by tribes as well as by the State of Minnesota.
We know that off-reservation gambling is a slippery slope. States begrudgingly tolerate tribal gaming within their borders. As long as gaming stays on the reservation, there is less pressure on states to compete with us aggressively. But when one tribe moves off-reservation to compensate for its remote location, inevitably others will follow. And we know that even one off-reservation tribal casino will spark demands on state politicians to allow major non-Indian gambling expansion that will effectively put all tribal gaming in danger. The market in most states simply isn’t big enough to sustain healthy tribal gaming trying to compete with new state authorized or sponsored nontribal gaming.
No matter how well-intended the Department of Interior’s decision, it pits tribe against tribe. Consider Wisconsin. Some tribes endorse the Kenosha plan, while others strenuously oppose it. At least two of the tribes endorsing the plan reportedly have off-reservation applications in the works themselves. Where will it end? Open warfare among tribes has always benefited those who oppose all Indian tribes.
In Minnesota, the MIGA tribes will continue to oppose any significant expansion of gambling, whether it is proposed by the state or by another tribe. We believe Indian gaming is and should remain a reservation-based economic development tool that helps fund the vital tasks of tribal governments, create jobs for Minnesotans and improve the lives of Indian people.
Charlie Vig is chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Kevin Leecy is chairman of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. This article was also submitted on behalf of tribal leaders Norman Deschampe, Grand Portage Band of Chippewa; Carri Jones, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe; Floyd Jourdain Jr., Red Lake Nation; Melanie Benjamin, Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe; Kevin Jensvold, Upper Sioux Community; Denny Prescott, Lower Sioux Indian Community.